The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.50

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

My content strategy for 2024 (with a little bit of help from AI)

It took me a long time, but I think I finally have the combination of content marketing and SEO figured out.

Here’s what I’ve been aiming for:

Content is one of the best ways to do inbound marketing. In case you missed it, inbound marketing is the idea that you put your content out there, and people come to you when they’re ready. (Compare this to outbound marketing where you go out to them - usually in the form of cold calls or emails.)

But content doesn’t do you much good if people can’t find it. So you need to optimize your content for search engines like Google (also called Search Engine Optimization or SEO).

Bringing these two things together has always been a struggle for me — not to understand the concepts, but to actually put it into practice.

I think I have it figured out, so here’s my plan for 2024.

Understand how SEO ranks you

A fundamental part of content strategy is to understand how SEO works. Here’s a very brief intro.

Search engines like Google periodically scan our websites. They analyze the content and build up an index. When you search for something on Google, it scans the index and presents the content that is most relevant to your search. This is called organic search (as opposed to paid search where you compete on price to rank high).

To rank high in organic search on Google, you have to meet a number of criteria:

  • Quality content about a topic. The more the better, but quality rules.
  • Internal links (between articles) to strengthen your authority as an expert on the topic.
  • Links from other websites to your content (also called backlinks) to further strengthen your authority.
  • Match the keywords people are typically looking for.

This last point — matching keywords people are looking for — can be tricky. You have to understand the words people use to search for the topics you write about, and you have to include them (naturally) in your content.

In the SEO world, this is called keyword research. More about this in a bit.

1. Start with pillars of content

The best kind of content sets you apart as an expert. So you can’t write just about anything — you have to specialize in a specific field. Within that field, there are still many topics you can write about, so you have to pick 4 or 5 main topics to write about.

I focus on helping solopreneurs build a business. The topics I chose to write about are:

  • systems for solopreneurs
  • marketing
  • lead nurturing
  • delivering like a pro
  • products and pricing
  • productivity, time management and stress management

These are called “pillars of content”. Each pillar will eventually contain a collection of articles about the topic. This is what it will look like on my website:

If I’m diligent when I craft my content, I can build internal links between articles (the dotted lines above). This helps people discover more valuable content, and strengthens my authority as an expert.

2. The content of each web page

If you do any kind of content marketing, your website will have a “blog home” or an “articles home”. In its simplest form, this page just contains a list of all your content.

But we can do a little better.

Rather than just a list of content, your Articles home could be an authoritative piece of content itself, with links to the pillars, and a list of your most popular (or all) content at the bottom.

Similarly, each Pillar page can be authoritative content about the topic in the pillar. This is called cornerstone content, and contains links to relevant articles.

Articles, in turn, specialize in one specific aspect of that topic.

For example:

  • In my Articles home page, I will talk about all 6 topics I specialize in.
  • In my pillar page about Productivity (the cornerstone content), I will talk about all the different aspects of productivity, time management and stress management.
  • Individual articles about productivity will dive into time blocking, focus, distractions, the Pomodoro method, and so on.

There are two big advantages of this hierarchy of content:

  • It gives readers more opportunity to discover content that is relevant to them.
  • It makes it easier to generate ideas for content.

And if you’re diligent about building internal links between articles, you’re naturally strengthening your authority as an expert.

3. What to write about

You always need to look at the content you’re going to create from 2 sides:

  • What you know your target audience will need.
  • What they’re searching for on the Internet.

The first requires that you understand your target market. The second requires keyword research.

Understanding your target market

You already know what your target market needs. In my case, I know the biggest thing solopreneurs are looking for is more clients. I therefore have to write about marketing for solopreneurs, giving them practical advice that actually helps.

But it’s easy to get this wrong. Don’t rely just on your intuition about what you think your market needs.

For example, a while ago I sent out a short post on LinkedIn about free templates for Master Services Agreement (MSA) and Statements of Work (SOW). This has been one of the most popular downloads on my website, with downloads even long after I published the post.

The most important thing to do is listen to your (potential) clients. What are they asking about? What do they respond to? Which problems have you helped them solve in the past?

This is the most valuable knowledge you have — use it.

Using AI to help you select your pillars

AI tools like ChatGPT can be a great help in defining your content strategy and generate ideas for articles. For example, here’s a prompt to help you craft pillars of content:

Forget all previous instructions. I would like you to act as a content marketing expert. I am a coach specializing in helping young leaders evolve and improve their leadership capabilities. Using the content pillars method, please suggest 4 to 5 content pillars I should focus on to get maximum engagement and response from my target market, and build my authority as an expert.

Be careful with AI responses, though. I find that the results need to be tweaked, and generally the results from ChatGPT-4 are better than ChatGPT-3.5.

Keyword research

Keyword research is the process of finding out what people are searching for (keywords). If you can find those words, you can then write content that includes those words and is therefore more likely to show up in search results.

Unfortunately, most keyword research tools out there seem to assume that you already know about keywords, keyword research and a whole bunch of arcane-sounding stuff. As a novice, I find these tools overwhelming, with no clear process that guides me to the keywords I should be targeting.

There are at least two potential solutions, starting with asking an AI. From the previous prompt, one of the suggested pillars was Career Advancement. So I asked ChatGPT:

Which keywords would young leaders typically use to find information related to Career Advancement?

While the results are decent (using ChatGPT-4), they won’t tell you how often those words are searched for.

In the SEO world, this is called search volume.

It doesn’t help writing content that very few people search for. You want to include keywords with a high search volume. So we need to find out what those keywords are.

The second option is Keywords Everywhere. It seems simpler, pricing is great and there are lots of support videos to show how to use it.

I have not yet started testing Keywords Everywhere, so stay tuned for an update early in 2024.

Using AI to help craft content

You can of course now use AI to help you craft your content. When I asked ChatGPT-4 about keywords above, one of the suggestions was “advancing in management”. I then asked ChatGPT the following:

Give me 5 ideas for articles about Advancing in management.

One of the article ideas was:

Navigating the Transition from Team Member to Team Leader": Address the challenges and strategies for those who are newly promoted to management roles. Focus on the shift in mindset, managing former peers, and setting the tone as a new leader.

You can now ask ChatGPT:

Give me an outline for an article about Navigating the Transition from Team Member to Team Leader

You could even ask ChatGPT to give you an 800-word article on this topic. Generally, I prefer to stop at the outline — I adapt that for my own needs, and write my own content.

If you’re starting from scratch

If you’re new at the content marketing game, you’re in luck — you don’t have any history to deal with. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Define your content pillars. The AI prompts above are useful, but always apply your own insights.
  1. Write your “articles home”. Think of it as a single article, and write one or two paragraphs about each pillar.
  1. Add cornerstone content. Over time, add cornerstone content for each pillar. Edit your articles home to include links to the cornerstone content.
  1. Add articles under each pillar. For each article you add, update the cornerstone content to include links to the articles. Where possible, add links in your articles to other articles (or even cornerstone content).

And in the meantime, start learning about keyword research. Here’s a ChatGPT prompt to get you started:

Can you explain the basic process of keyword research so I can write content that has a higher chance of ranking in search engines? Present the results as a step-by-step guide.

ChatGPT will come up with a reasonably good process. You can then ask it to provide more detail in each step.

I will let you know what I find out about Keywords Everywhere.

My journey

My journey is going to be different because I’m not starting from scratch. I have a lot of content – since I published my first article in May 2017, there are now 161 articles and 72 Accomplished Solopreneur entries (this is number 73). So I have a lot of history to clean up — here’s the process I will be going through:

  • Do keyword research for each content pillar.
  • Craft a better Articles home (at the moment it’s just a list of articles).
  • Craft cornerstone content for each pillar.
  • Categorize each piece of content into one or more pillars (yes, all 234 of them).
  • Review each article, updating the content to target the relevant keywords and adding cross-article links where appropriate.
  • And along the way, I have to merge my articles and the Accomplished Solopreneur entries. (I can’t for the life of me remember why I split them in the first place.)

This is a big job. But I believe the results will be worth it:

The ultimate goal of this exercise is to be more discoverable when solopreneurs search for information.

The key to getting a big job like this done is to:

  • Plan it well.
  • Do one thing at a time.

So even if it takes most of the year to do it, I believe it will have substantial long-term benefits. I will update you along the way — I hope you will like the results.